Keratosis Pilaris or 'Chicken Skin'

Cropped shot of young woman scratching her forearm with fingers
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Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an itch that -- when scratched -- turns into a rash. Therefore, for a rash to be eczema, it has to have been itchy and scratched before the rash developed. Rashes that don’t itch aren’t eczema.

Rough, dry bumps that feel and look like sandpaper and that occur on the upper arms of children are commonly due to keratosis pilaris (KP). KP is commonly referred to as “chicken skin” and can occur on the outer part of the upper arms, thighs and even the face.

KP does not usually itch, and it is not usually red or inflamed. This type of rash is due to the abnormal buildup of the skin protein keratin in the skin follicles.

Keratosis pilaris seems to be related to allergic diseases, such as atopic dermatitis, but can also occur in people without allergies. It does not require treatment and usually goes away as a child ages. Some people are concerned about the cosmetic appearance of KP; treatment with a variety of over-the-counter moisturizing creams may help, or a prescription cream containing lactic acid or Retin-A (tretinoin) may be needed.


Beltrani J. The Clinical Spectrum of Atopic Dermatitis. JACI. 1999;104:S87-98.

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